Categories: Electronics

Collaborative Research in Programmable Matter

This project combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information known as claytronics.

Our goal is to give tangible, interactive forms to information so that a user’s senses will experience digital environments as though they are indistinguishable from reality.

Claytronics is taking place across a rapidly advancing frontier.  This technology will help to drive breathtaking advances in the design and engineering of computing and hardware systems.

Our research team focuses on two main projects:

♦ Creating the basic modular building block of claytronics known as the claytronic atom or catom, and

♦ Designing and writing robust and reliable software programs that will manage the shaping of ensembles of millions of catoms into dynamic, 3-Dimensional forms.

Realizing the vision of claytronics through the self-assembly of millions of catoms into synthetic reality will have a profound effect on the experience of users of electronic information. This promise of claytronic technology has become possible because of the ever increasing speeds of computer processing predicted in Moore’s Law.

This website will introduce you to the ideas that are driving claytronics, the research team that is working to make it happen, and the hardware and software projects that enable the building of claytronic ensembles.

Development of this powerful form of information display represents a partnership between the School of Computer Sciences of Carnegie Mellon University, Intel Corporation at its Pittsburgh Laboratory and FEMTO-ST Institute.  As an integral part of our philosophy, the Claytronics Project seeks the contributions of scholars and researchers worldwide who are dedicating their efforts to the diverse scientific and engineering studies related to this rich field of nanotechnology and computer science.

To understand the future of claytronics, watch the concept video [.mov] created by Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center.

Use the links to the left to see a list of publications, some videos and photos documenting our progress, a partial list of talks we have given, and people working on the project.

The program of the programmable matter is

  author = {Pillai, Padmanabhan and Campbell, Jason D. and Kedia,
     Gautam and Moudgal, Shishir and Sheth, Kaushik},
  title = {A 3D Fax Machine based on Claytronics},
  booktitle = {IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots
     and Systems {(IROS '06)}},
  venue = {IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and
     Systems (IROS)},
  month = {October},
  year = {2006},
  keywords = {Applications of Claytronics},
  url = {},
  abstract = {This paper presents a novel application of modular
     robotic technology. Many researchers expect manufacturing
     technology will allow robot modules to be built at smaller and
     smaller scales, but movement and actuation are increasingly
     difficult as dimensions shrink. We describe an application --- a
     3D fax machine --- which exploits inter-module communication and
     computation without requiring self-reconfiguration. As a result,
     this application may be feasible sooner than applications which
     depend upon modules being able to move themselves. In our new
     approach to 3D faxing, a large number of sub-millimeter robot
     modules form an intelligent ``clay'' which can be reshaped via
     the external application of mechanical forces. This clay can act
     as a novel input device, using intermodule localization
     techniques to acquire the shape of a 3D object by casting. We
     describe software for such digital clay. We also describe how,
     when equipped with simple inter-module latches, such clay can be
     used as a 3D output device. Finally, we evaluate results from
     simulations which test how well our approach can replicate
     particular objects.},

  • Tags: electronics

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